Brian Smith: England need more tries – and a plan that goes beyond just bullying the French pack in Six Nations

How a team starts a match says everything about  their approach 

You have to say it’s one hell of a way to start a Six Nations tournament. Every team in the championship has a landmine in front of them – not even Wales, the reigning champions, have an easy road ahead as their leading players try to refocus after giving so much of themselves to the Lions back in the summer, while their administrators continue to tear each other apart on the political front – and for England, this evening’s match in Paris is as dangerous as they come, especially as they are fielding a back division blessed with so little in the way of experience.

The French could implode, of course: never underestimate the pressure they feel when they play in front of that impatient home crowd of theirs. There again, one ridiculously brilliant run from a centre as good as Wesley Fofana could see them explode into form. I know this much: England cannot hope to win the game if their plan does not extend beyond bullying the French pack. They will have to do more than that.

In fact, I’ll go further: anyone wishing to win this season’s title will have to hit double figures on the try count. We know the French have that kind of ammunition if they get themselves right and Ireland, it seems to me, are also equipped to score at the required rate. So too the Welsh, although they do not cross the opposition whitewash quite as often as they should, given the quality of the backs at their disposal. England have yet to prove their capability in this area, having seen their scoring level slip over the last 12 months.

There’s a fair bit I admire about Stuart Lancaster’s side: he’s coached some real togetherness into them and made them very competitive, very hard-nosed and tough to beat. I guess the challenge for them now is to find easier ways of winning by scoring more heavily. This is not straightforward, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, England go into this tournament with a brand new back division long on ambition but very short on caps. Secondly, there just isn’t much space to attack these days.

When I was involved with the national team, we ran in 15 tries in one Six Nations and 13 in another. But things were different back then because the All Blacks and Wallabies, keen to find the best way of beating the Springboks in Tri-Nations rugby, had developed a strategy of playing from deep in their own territory as a means of moving the big Springbok forwards around the paddock. “What’s good for them is good for us,” we thought, and we followed a similar policy. Four or five years on, teams aren’t doing that any more. How often do the New Zealanders kick the ball these days? Lots. How often do they attack from their own half? Not often.

I see some hopeful signs for England, all the same. By going with Danny Care and Lee Dickson as their scrum-halves, they are clearly seeking to bring some tempo to their rugby. That’s good. Equally, it’s encouraging that they’re playing with just the one full-back, rather than two. There was a logic to running Mike Brown and Alex Goode in the same back line, but it left them short of natural, out-and-out finishers and, as a consequence, their attacking game suffered. I also liked the way they fought back against the All Blacks at Twickenham before Christmas, having been badly stung in the opening exchanges. If they can learn to start Tests with the tempo they developed in the middle period of that game with the world champions, the tries will come.

The way I look at it, how a team starts a match says everything about the way they’re approaching the whole of it. If they kick long at the first whistle and settle for a line-out near halfway, that’s one thing; if they kick to contest, to win the ball back immediately, that’s quite another. By doing that, they’re saying: “We’re here to play. We’re coming after you.” It’s a big, bold statement and it sets the tone.

England should certainly be bold, because in Billy Vunipola of Saracens they have a player who could, between now and next year’s World Cup, establish himself as the best No 8 in the international game – a major call, given that the All Blacks have a bloke by the name of Kieran Read in the middle of their back row, but one I’m happy to make. Vunipola is still finding his feet in the Test arena but he’s a force of nature and if England play with a little imagination, they could unleash him in a wide range of ways and really capitalise on a unique set of potentially devastating gifts.

One other thing: I think the Billy Twelvetrees-Luther Burrell partnership in midfield could work. Twelvetrees is everything a coach could want in an inside centre – it’s very rare that you find a No 12 who can carry, kick and pass, so to me he’s rugby gold – while Burrell has the power to give a side some go-forward. On the front foot, you can expect the kind of quick ruck ball that allows you to play with some zip. If you can’t get yourselves over the gain line, you get shut down. It’s that simple. If Burrell comes up trumps, England could drive a sword through French hearts.

Brian Smith is director of rugby at London Irish  and a former England attack coach

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice